Why is it important to record casualties of armed conflict?

The protection of civilians in wartime and the right to have one's death recorded on an official record is a necessity from a number of standpoints: official, political, military, moral, legal and preventive.

  • From an official and political point of view, public state institutions ought to maintain records of the deaths of its citizens and use this data to inform the public, shape policy and appreciate the overall impact of a conflict on the population.
  • From a military point of view, with the increasing significance of the movement to protect civilians, such data is essential to analyse the effects of certain military practices and techniques.
  • From a moral point of view, every civilian and combatant is entitled to recognition in the eyes of the state as a valued citizen, invested with rights provided under the frameworks of international law. No citizen should have their life arbitrarily taken, and especially ought not to fall within the category of ‘missing’ because of state failure to record the details of their death.
  • International institutions tasked with investigating violations of international law and ensuring effective prosecution of perpetrators of the gravest crimes outlined in law need access to such information and, importantly, need to rely on the accuracy of such information in order to undertake fair, informed and effective prosecutions.
  • From a human security point of view, not only does the endemic failure to record the civilian casualties of military actions provide them with impunity, the bitterness and indeed rage resulting from this failure can itself be a driver for future conflict.